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Thursday 3rd March 2022
I have been meaning to camp atop Pillar for a while. My usual route up is via Scoat Tarn, and every time I have set out to camp atop Pillar in the evening I have found camping at the Scoat Tarn far too tempting - especially when the weather is foul. As part as a last clutch at Winter bonus points this year, I headed off into the hills for two night-er.
I decided this time to approach from Wasdale Head via Black Sail pass. Setting off after work on Thursday 3rd March I cycled up into Wasdale, and locked my bike to a notice board just short of the green at Wasdale Head. After faffing about moving equipment from panniers to backpack, it was after 1900hrs when I set off on foot - and so properly dark.
Passing alongside the inn I gained the bridleway - comprised of ankle-breaking slippery cobles. The forecast was for possible rain/snow and winds of about 30mph on the summit. The forecast for the next two days was rather mixed, with he possibility of snow and ice - so I was lugging full winter equipment .
The path follows the east side of Mosedale beck, and is easy walking once the cobblestones run out. Ritsons Force was visible in the torchlight and a vague shadow of Kick Fell above. Ahead were many pairs of sheep’s eyes, probably not too pleased at being disturbed after just settling down for the night.
The path starts to kick up and head north east before crossing Gatherstones Beck - this would be a nasty crossing in spate conditions but thankfully the water was not too high tonight. Checking my watch, the time was already marching past 2000hrs; I had set a rough watershed of 2030hrs, after which I would camp at the top of the pass rather than making for Pillar.
I stopped stop to fill up with water at about the 500m contour - apart from a couple of small muddy pools there are no water sources on the ridge across to Pillar. The extra 2 kg of weight was a real burden but spirits were buoyed as a crested the top of the pass, it was almost exactly 2030.
The wind was modest, and a packet of Jelly Babies on the way up meant I still ahd plenty of energy, so I pressed on, keeping as south as possible on the ridge to take advantage of the several avoiding paths that miss-out some of the rocky bits. Just after looking stead, one of those rocky-bits is unavoidable, and while an easy climb in daylight is a bit more tricky in darkness with a heavy pack. The lights of Wasdale Head were twinkling below as I picked myself through the scree and rocks.
The path eases off after the crag , and I started to occasional patches of snow in the torchlight. The grassy ridge here could make a good camping spot, but I pressed on it was now passing 2100hrs
The last 50m of ascent seemed to drag on, but eventually a summit shelter and trig point came into view - I could even see the lights of West Cumbria below. Enthused by my good fortune with the weather I decided to get on the radio right away - I was already 10 minutes past my alert time of 2130hrs. I sat on a pile of snow in the shelter and called CQ.
First to respond was M0RKD/M, passing close to Warrington on the M6 on a long drive from Edinburgh. Next was M7ASK and M7LEM. the fourth contact was 2E0EVD. By now it was starting to snow and the mist had closed in - my initial god fortune with the weather had been simply a brief clearing.
I starting getting the tent up, by which time it was snowing quite heavily. The temperature was just above zero and this was damp, wet snow. The wind had picked up too, blowing 20 to 30mph. As soon as the tent was up I piled my gear inside, and dove inside myself. The tent was pitched partly inside the shelter, o give some defence from the wind which was from the west.
I quickly got out of my wet clothing and into my sleeping bag - whence I noted a bright light through the wall of my tent - I had left one of my torches outside. This prompted a barefoot walk through the snow to collect the torch - my feet were aching with cold after just a few seconds.
I attempted a few more calls on the radio from inside the tent, but heard noting - so got off to sleep. It was a pretty brutal night - the wind was blowing snow against the tent all night, with spindrift comping under hastily pitched outer.
Friday 4 March 2022
I had planned an early start, but was still in my sleeping bag at 0800hrs when I called CQ (at a time I had previously alerted). This morning I had more success, 2E0VRX, followed by 2E0LDF, M7MGO and GW4ZPL a total of twelve contacts were made from inside the tent. I had not bothered to erect the flowerpot antenna as it was too foul outside to contemplate playing with antennas.
Once the pile-up died down I got packed away and got changed back into my day clothes. It looked nasty outside - snow flying about, mist, poor visibility - not inviting at all. I decided to temper my original aims (High Raise) and instead camp atop Esk Hause that night.
The tent was taken down quickly and I headed off into the murk. My compass disintegrated at this point (a top of the range Silva model) so I was navigating with a backup compass (I must say, I didn’t realise how many separate components were in a Silva compass until mine decide to spring appart).
Once I got down to 800m the snow started to disappear, and a few breaks in the mist also revealed the ridge ahead. I soon retraced the previous night’s steps to Black Sail Pass, staying on an easterly route I headed round to Baysoar Slack, from where I gained the summit plateau - it was now after 1100hrs, and well behind my original schedule.
The summit of Kirk Fell was deserted, but the sun could be seen behind the veil of mist. I setup the flowerpot antenna on a 7m, pole, and sat in my bothy bag to call CQ. 2E0LDF responded first, followed by M0JKS/P on G/LD-020 (Harter Fell), GW4ZPL and G1OHH (giving a weaker signal than usual due to storm damaged antenna). I made about a dozen contacts again, finishing with G4TGJ/P on G/NP-004.
By the end of the activation it was well past midday, and the sun had started to shine - but it was still very cold. Heading eastwards I could see the next objective - Great Gable. Gable looks forbidding from this vantage point - the idea of walking up it seems an impossibility with near vertical rocky sides.
The muddy ponds at Beck Head were soon reached where I had a spot of lunch (flapjack and chocolate - yum) before heading up. The route is much easier than it looks, being mostly a scree zig-zag, although I often find myself veering off the path into the boulder field for some reason.
The top of Great Gable was cold, with patched of snow. By now the mist had fully lifted, and the sun was visible at time - I had a great view into Wasdale, north to Keswick and eastwards to the Helvellyn Range. Across to the east I could also see Esk Hause - my destination for the day.
I called CQ on my handheld, and first to respond was GW4ZPL, followed by M0NOM, M0JKS/P (still on Harter Fell) and G6WBS/P (on G/LD-013). A busy pileup followed, with contacts into Leeds, Manchester and most of Cumbria.
I headed off the summit towards Aaron Slack - this provides a nice sheltered spot, with a good source of water, ideal for a break. A bad step guards the final exit from the summit plateau, and I lowered my pack on paracord to make it easier - its nasty spot if carrying a heavy pack.
Aaron slack provided a great rest spot, looking out above Styhead Tarn towards Glaramara. I watched a couple of walkers pitching a tent at Styhead - I have never once passed this location without seeing a tent, and I was glad to see the rule proved again. I would never camp here myself – all those people camping here must also be going to the toilet here, that’s why the grass looks so lush around the tarn.
I climbed past sprinkling Tarn - I was tempted to stop here, but was also looking forward to camping atop the Hause so pressed onwards. On reaching Esk Hause I soon found a good spot for the tent - this a lovely place to camp, although prone to strong winds at times.
I erected the flowerpot antenna/pole next to the tent, and after collecting some water settled down to east re-hydrated potato hotpot. I had a good chat with 2E0LDF and 2E0XUP on the radio, and then settled down for the night.
Saturday 5 March 2022
I got a good night’s sleep - the wind stayed fairly slack at about 20mph., although an inch of snow fell in the night. The the was frozen in the morning - condensation on the outer had frozen to the inner where the wind was buffeting the two together. The guylines were frozen stiff, and the antenna pole had weird ice formations all along. I had to break the top of the pole into pieces as it was so frozen that it was impossible to retract.
I headed off towards Scafeell, Ice-Axe in hand hoping for some good ice conditions on the way up to the summit. Most of the way the path was covered with an inch of mixed now and ice and fairly easy going. I paused at Broad Crag col for some chocolate before heading up the steep northeastern side of Scafell Pike. Part way up I found thick ice covering the path, and so donned crampons, I could hear G7KSE chatting on the radio (from Kirk Fell) while I sat there… Although I had only carried them up until now, I was glad I brought them - the last 40m of ascent would have been difficult in just microspikes.
The huge summit cairn was soon in view, and a magnificent vie all around. The sky was blue and the sun shining - but it was still so very cold. I stuffed the now 6m pole into my pack rather than guy it out, and called CQ at 0945hrs. A massive pile-up followed, with around 50 contacts and many summit-to-summits. At the end of the pileup[ I caught G7KSE, now on Great Gable - he was later that day to reach Scafell Pike too, just as I arrived home.
Activating Scafell Pike
With the summit starting to get busy, I left at about 1100hrs, heading down and across Lingmell col
to take a favourite descent route via Lingmell Nose - guaranteed to be quiet, and giving great views across to the PIllar-KirkFell-Gable skyline.
I was back on by bicycle just after midday, and continued t make contacts on the cycle home - chasing G6WBS/P on Black Combe.
It was a great trip out with some contrasting conditions - brutal weather on Pillar, a pleasant evening on Esk Hause and glorious sunshine on the Saturday.